November 26, 2013

The Downs and Ups of Knee Problems

Knee problems are somewhat common in table tennis, especially as we get older. Normally it takes time for them to heal. Okay, it always takes time for them to heal, but sometimes it's a mixture of physical and mental, and sometimes it takes time for the mental to catch up with the physical.

As I've blogged a number of times recently, I've been having knee problems for some time - both knees. When I'm out there I feel like I'm tottering about on stilts. My level of play dropped dramatically as even simple blocking became difficult as I'm used to stepping to the ball (good technique!), and now I found myself reaching (bad technique!). Since I had no confidence in the knees, deep down I was scared to even try bending them, so I mostly stood up straight and, as I said, tottered about on stilts.

I probably hit rock bottom this past weekend. On Saturday I was could barely move in my coaching sessions - fortunately it's my students who have to do most of the moving as I mostly block. When I did play points or games I struggled. On Saturday afternoon, after coaching all day, I felt like my feet were frozen to the ground. I normally end Saturdays as a playing partner in our 4:30-6:30 match session, where kids who train nearly full-time try to knock me off. I started out by barely beating a 2000-level kid, 11-8 in the fifth, where I mostly blocked and fished ball after ball back. Then I played an 1800 kid. I won the first, then I felt a slight tinge in the right knee early in the second - and from there on I played like a scared tree. I should have defaulted there just in case, but decided to try and finish. I lost that game 11-3, and it didn't get much better. I ended up losing 11-8 in the fifth, the only time I'd lost to someone of that level in roughly forever. I dropped out of the session after that. (What was really irritating is the kid was screaming every point, even though it was obvious I was tottering about instead of my normal forehand-oriented attack game.)

On Sunday, at the end of a 90-minute session with Sameer, about 1300 level, we played games were I'd spot five points, and after each game the spot goes up or down one point. Normally I can get it up to 6 or 7, but this time I was so frozen I could barely play, and he got it down to 2, and kept it at 2 or 3 for a while. (At least he wasn't choing every point!) Time to retire as a player, right?

Then on Monday I had a two-hour session with Sameer again. (He's taking extra sessions to prepare for the North American Teams this weekend.) I did a lot of stretching before the session, and some easy shadow-stroking, and strangely, the knees felt okay. I spent much of the session harping on staying low, since Sameer tends to stand up too straight. I kept demonstrating the lower, wider stance, and the knees kept feeling better and better, as if they were loosening up. I started to have confidence in them again, and was able to let myself go when we played points. At the end of the session we again played games, and this time I was back to normal, and got the spot up to 6 or 7 each game. He was playing well, but so was I, for the first time in I think months.

Afterwards I had a 30-minute session with Derek Nie, where we worked only on receive (25 minutes) and serve (five minutes at the end). (He'd already had a longer session with one of our 2500 training partners.) Mostly I just served and grabbed the next ball so he could get as much receive practice as possible, but toward the end we played out some points - and again, I was able to move around and play at my "normal" 2200 level or so.

So the knees seem mostly healed. The strange thing is they might have been okay the last week or so, but I was so used to having problems with them that I was afraid to really put weight on them or stay low or bend them much, and so couldn't play well until I inadvertently discovered they were mostly healed. We'll see how they are in my sessions today - I have three hours scheduled, but due to the heavy sleet predicted, they might all get canceled. (Today and tomorrow's weather here in Maryland are supposed to be pretty nasty.)

USATT Editors

As noted in yesterday's blog, the minutes of the USATT Board Meeting in October say that USATT is strongly considering moving the magazine to USATT headquarters. Here are motions #5 and #6:

MOVED that the USATT explore the possibility of producing its magazine in house as part of its budget cycle this year.
Movant: Peter Scudner
Second: Attila Malek
Discussion: The USATT magazine editor’s contract provide for an editor’s salary that is a significant part of USATT’s marketing budget. Rather than having an independent magazine editor, USATT’s marketing staff can produce the magazine in house, integrating it with the USATT website, Internet and digital outlets.
The Motion was passed unanimously by voice vote.

MOVED that the current USATT magazine editor’s contract not be renewed without the Board’s approval.
Movant: Peter Scudner
Second: Attila Malek
Discussion: The USATT magazine editor’s contract either can be renewed this year or allowed to expire. The last 2013 issue of the magazine is almost completed. The first issue of 2014 may be completed soon. While there will be overlap between transferring of magazine publication to the marketing staff from the current editor, the editor’s contract should not be renewed without the Board’s express approval.
The Motion was passed unanimously by voice vote.

A little history lesson: USATT tried this once before, and it was an utter disaster. They seem to think editing a magazine is just something anyone can do, so yeah, let's have some marketing person do the magazine. And while he's at it he can do the accounting, coach our national team, and do the occasional brain surgery, perhaps on those who truly don't see the problem here.

Here's a listing of USATT Magazine editors since 1970. Since 1989 we've had 17 editors (some had more than one tenure). I did 71 issues (in two tenures), and Steve & Marie Hopkins have done 39 since May/June 2007. The other 15 editors (all working out of USATT headquarters) did 41 issues, an average of 2.7 issues per editor before getting fired or resigning. Why were there so many editors? Those of us who remember those years remember the poor quality of the magazines because they were not being done by professionals; they were put together at USATT headquarters by marketing type people with little editorial and zero table tennis experience, who USATT hired to save money. The great in-house experiment was a failure over and over, and only continued through so many editors because the people in charge had spent so much time talking about the "huge" money savings by moving it to headquarters and having these inexperienced interns (translation: low salary) do it that they couldn't admit their mistake, and so we all paid for it.

And the huge irony of it was that not only did USATT end up with poorly-done magazine (which led to a lot of board members getting voted out of office), but they ended up losing a lot of money because the advertisers fled, not wanting to be associated with such a weak magazine, and knowing that people wouldn't read their ads if they don't read the magazine. When I was editor I broke every advertising record, and when these "marketing" people did the magazine, they lost a fortune for USATT. (When I was hired the first time as editor, the record for annual advertising was $14,000; I got it up to $33,000. When I was hired the second time, revenue had dropped back again below the $30,000 mark; this time I got it up to something like $80,000/year. I didn't do this by being a salesman, but by putting together a timely and classy product that advertisers liked and that people would read, so they'd see the ads.)

What are the chances that USATT will find someone with the editorial and table tennis experience necessary to do a competent magazine, who lives locally to Colorado Springs or is willing to relocate for such a low-paying job? We learned all about the odds the last 15 times we tried this.

The simple reality is that in this day and age, we have this thing called the "Internet," and it allows people from anywhere in the world to work on such things as a magazine as if they were in the next room. You don't need to restrict your candidates for the job to those who happen to live nearby. And you can't expect to find someone who's competent in one field by hiring someone from another field. How many times do we need to relearn this lesson?

Here we go again (maybe). Cliche alert: "People who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Fan Zhendong?

Here's the article about the Chinese 16-year-old phenom.

"...The World's Best, Zhang Jike"

This is according to Fan Zhendong. Here's the article. (There are links to several videos.)

ITTF Coaching Seminar in Singapore

Here are photos of the recent ITTF Level 1 Coaching Course in Singapore, taught by USA's Richard McAfee. (Click on pictures to see next one.)

Breathtaking Table Tennis

Here's a highlights video (7:45) I don't think I've posted before. It's set to music, with much of it in slow motion.

Curvy Pong?

Here's the picture!

Send us your own coaching news!

Larry, it seems that the decision for now is "to explore the possibility of producing its magazine in house". Does that mean that they will ask some knowledgeable people for advice? Does that mean that these people can email/write/call the board and tell them what they think about this suggestion?

I actually had a talk with Steve Hopkins about his tenure as an editor and he was quite upset with the disconnect between what he is asked to do by USATT and financial/adminstrative support he is getting. He surely is not doing that for big bucks.

I simply was trying to find out if some of us could help him (I was even willing to do some part there) to proof-read the articles in USATT magazine - some of them are chockful of typos, incorrect terminology and even explicit mistakes; but it seems that the production schedule is so screwed up that it is often near impossible to do that.

By the way, when you as USATT magazine editor managed to raise the ad cash flow to 80K, where did the money go? was at least part of it spent to make the magazine itself better?

BTW, why does the USATT magazine have next to zero articles on equipment reviews? is someone afraid of offending advertisers? sometimes it seems that the magazine should be renamed to "USATT Catalog of Fancy & Expensive Table Tennis Gear"...

In reply to by JimT

Hi Jim,

Anyone can, of course, contact the USATT Board with their advice. Some might listen; some will not. Hopefully they are seeking advice on this, but my experience is that most believe they already know enough, and by the time they realize they do not, it's too late. And so much of their time is in damage control. A lot of people do contact them, including a number of nut cases, so it's partially understandable that they are often skeptical of outsider advice - but it means they are often out of touch with what's going on in the real world of table tennis.

When I was editor and advertising went up dramatically both times, the money just went into the general fund. I was able to go to more pages because of this, but mostly because if I sold eight more pages of ads, they'd let me go eight more pages so I wouldn't actually lose pages. Since one page of advertising (roughly) pays for about eight pages of the magazine, little of the advertising increases actually went into the magazine. I did, however, get a 15% commission. When advertising skyrocketed, a few board members focused on the 15% I was getting rather than the 85% they were getting, and used it as one of the pretexts to moving to the magazine in-house, on the assumption that the advertising increase had nothing to do with the editor. Advertising plummeted, and they ended up getting 100% of a lot less, and pretty much that entire board was voted out due to the poor quality of the magazine. The new board has little institutional knowledge, alas.

Equipment reviews are a tricky matter in a magazine that relies on advertising for revenue. It's pretty easy to get advertisers mad if you publish reviews that are favorable to competitors or unfavorable to their own products. It's just not worth it, and I too stayed away from them when I was editor.

-Larry Hodges